Abortion is one of the most serious and sensitive healthcare issues in America today. Since laws vary from state to state, some people have access to safe and affordable abortion services while others don't.
To ensure that all their employees have access to the services they need, many employers are now offering abortion travel benefits.
What are abortion travel benefits?
Abortion travel benefits are reimbursements employers offer to their employees who need access to reproductive health services unavailable in their home state.
In some states and local regions, abortions may be restricted, prohibited, or much harder to access. In these cases, employers may provide a stipend or reimbursement for travel expenses associated with receiving these services in another state.
On the surface, an abortion travel benefit is quite simple: If an employee needs to travel out of state or more than a specific distance (e.g., 100 miles) for an abortion, the benefit may cover necessities for the employee and in some cases, their dependents during that period.
What does an abortion travel benefit cover?
A travel benefit for abortions may cover costs associated with obtaining an out-of-state abortion.
This frequently includes:
- Travel costs (plane tickets, train fares, gas, etc.)
- Mileage by car
- Lodging for the employee and/or their dependent(s)
- Meals while traveling
- Dependent care while traveling
- Any additional costs related to receiving medical care in another state
- Paid time off (PTO) to access these reproductive services
Some employers have specific coverage limits based on the employee's or dependent’s individual circumstances or even what may be covered in their health insurance policy.
Why employers offer travel benefits for abortion
In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization marked a pivotal shift. It overturned the historic 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade, which had established abortion rights.
The Dobbs case revolved around a Mississippi law prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks, barring certain exceptions like medical emergencies or significant fetal abnormalities. This new ruling determined that the U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee abortion rights, effectively granting individual states the authority to set their own abortion regulations or bans.
As a result, numerous states have or will soon enact laws restricting or outlawing abortions. Given this changing legislative environment, employers face challenges regarding group health plan coverage, especially in states with stricter abortion laws.
The immediate solution to strict laws (or an abortion ban) in certain states is to travel to another state where it's legal. Since this can be cost-prohibitive, employers have stepped in.
To bridge these health coverage gaps and ensure employees have access to necessary medical services, many employers now offer travel benefits for abortion procedures in states where it remains accessible.
Companies offering abortion travel benefits
Searches for companies with abortion travel benefits have skyrocketed over the past year, with as many as 1,000 searches being performed in search engines per month. This reflects a growing interest in understanding and exploring these benefit options.
A number of companies have publicly announced their travel and lodging benefits. Here are a few of the most notable:
- Airbnb updated its health plans to include medical travel for reproductive care, added 20 days to its bereavement leave policy for lost pregnancies, and said it would offer financial support for employees who face legal issues under state laws.
- Amazon will pay up to $4,000 annually for employees to go through abortion care in another state.
- Apple openly stated that the company's health plans include abortion care and any travel costs associated with it.
- Bumble launched a relief fund to help anyone affected by Texas's SB 8 legislation.
- Citigroup offers reproductive benefits, including travel reimbursement, to every US employee under the company's insurance coverage.
- Disney extends abortion benefits to all its employees, cast members, and their families.
- DoorDash now covers certain travel expenses associated with abortion care.
- Goldman Sachs expanded its health benefits to include all abortion-related procedures and gender-affirming care.
- Lyft offers protection against SB 8's "bounty" portion, which encourages people to report employees who receive an abortion.
- Microsoft announced last year it would expand its benefits package to include coverage for abortion care and travel related to the procedure.
- Netflix has announced that they will pay for up to $10,000 of expenses associated with abortion and travel costs.
- Salesforce told its employees they wouldn't have to worry about abortion costs, and they'd help them leave Texas by offering a relocation stipend.
Plenty of other companies have decided to cover costs associated with reproductive services privately. Given the ramifications of publicly covering travel expenses, some companies choose to do so without announcing it.
Where doing the right thing meets mitigating legal risk
With the shifting legal landscape, whether you can legally offer abortion care to your team is an evolving challenge. Some states are taking very draconian stances on prohibiting abortion care, though, so companies continue to seek a path where they can provide their employees with access to care without ending up in court - or worse yet, creating a path towards prosecution for their team members. Some of the ways companies seek to mitigate this risk include the following:
- If you offer your team health insurance, and it is underwritten in a state like MA or CA - those benefits are likely included in your health insurance policy even for employees in a state where it is prohibited.
- Offer an out-of-state care stipend rather than an abortion care stipend. This broadens the scope of what may be included (abortion care, a specialist for a certain cancer, prosthetics, fertility care, etc.).
By shifting from an Abortion Care stipend to an Out-of-State Care stipend, not only do you provide better coverage for your team, but you also mitigate your legal risk. If you have a stipend specifically for a procedure that is illegal in a particular state and then keep records of all the people who are using said stipend, you are creating a clear path toward prosecution for both the company and the employee. Out-of-State Care, on the other hand, particularly care that doesn’t require medical substantiation, provides for any number of reasons someone may need to leave their state for care, thus mitigating some of the risks associated with this type of support.
As an employer, it's crucial to stay informed about the ever-changing landscape of abortion travel benefits so you can make informed decisions and effectively mitigate potential risks.